Nelson Esparza has ambitions for higher office. But he is still shy about publicly revealing any potential future plans.
“I’m focusing on City Hall,” the Fresno city councilman said now, as he had in the past.
However, some of his focus in December has been raising funds for a 2026 run for the state Board of Equalization, District 1. Campaign finance documents show he raised $72,000 so far, all since Dec. 12.
He did not want to comment further on his potential run or fundraising.
The BOE and its four elected members statewide (the state Controller, elected separately, serves as the fifth voting member) are responsible for overseeing property taxes and alcoholic beverage taxes among other duties.
Because there are only four members statewide, the district that covers Fresno stretches from the Oregon border to the north, the Nevada border to the east, and San Bernardino County to the south.
Esparza’s 2022 has seen his name in the news for negative reasons. He was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly threatening the city attorney with his job. The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office dropped the charge earlier this month. The move spared Esparza a trial, and potential removal from office.
Esparza and Grove Won Re-Election
Ted Gaines, a Republican elected for his second term to the BOE representing District 1 last month, will term out in 2026.
Esparza, D-Fresno, may have competition based on campaign finance documents. State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, also has filed to run.
Both potential candidates just won re-election in 2022. Esparza won a second four-year term to represent central and east Fresno on the city council. Grove won her second four-year term in the state Senate. Her Bakersfield-based district now covers parts of Fresno and Clovis. She terms out in 2026, having previously served six years in the state Assembly.
Filing to run does not necessarily mean either candidate will follow through. It is possible to open an account for fundraising and transfer the funds to another campaign account.
“We formed the committee so that I could continue to support conservative candidates for office and possible future options for myself. However my priority is starting my second term in the State Senate,” Grove emailed Politics 101.
Campaign finance records show Grove has not fundraised yet for a potential BOE run. Her 2022 Senate account has $147,581 cash on hand as of the latest filing in October. Some of that money could be transferred over.
Esparza has $121,241 cash on hand from his 2022 city council re-election account as of June 30.
The district has a Democratic registration advantage, 39%-32%, over Republicans.
A Deadline to Collect Now
A new law takes starts Sunday, affecting the way local politicians can accept campaign contributions. Any amount over $250 would force an elected leader to either return the money or recuse when the contributor has business in front of the governing board.
In Esparza’s case, his December contributors are getting things done before the deadline. Several adding to his coffers regularly have business in front of the Fresno City Council. Contribution limits for the BOE are capped at $8,100. Developers Richard Spencer, George Beal, River Park Properties II, Peter Stravinski, and Thomas Richards met that maximum in the past few weeks.
If any contributor adds to the campaign starting Jan. 1, they may lose Esparza’s vote.
Grove would not be under such limitations. The law does not apply to members of the state Legislature.
A 2024 Crystal Ball
Only weeks after the 2022 election, politicians are calculating their next move. Any future run could create a domino effect.
Fresno County Supervisor Sal Quintero is up for re-election in 2024. His district includes much of the city of Fresno.
Multiple sources have suggested that Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez will challenge Quintero, his former boss. Chavez served as Quintero’s chief of staff when Quintero was a Fresno City Councilman. Chavez succeeded him in 2017.
Chavez is considering.
“I was asked by a broad range of community, business and labor leaders to consider running for office in 2024. (I) will make an announcement in January,” Chavez said in a text.
He says he has $125,000 cash on hand.
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula has long been rumored to run for a congressional seat. Doing so in 2024 or 2026 would require him to abandon his current seat, which is in a Democratic stronghold. Arambula, who has held the seat since 2016, would not term out until 2028.
Another insider suggested Arambula may run for mayor of Fresno. A 2024 run would pit him against incumbent Jerry Dyer. Waiting until 2028 could avoid that challenge.
If Arambula left, that would create a free-for-all for his Fresno-area Assembly seat. Several leaders would have to be considered as successors, including Chavez, Esparza, and their city council colleague Miguel Arias.
A source close to Arambula said he was just re-elected and enjoys being an assemblyman.
“People love rumors,” the source said.